Is REDD+ moving too slow? Not necessarily…

Scientists employ cautious optimism when analyzing REDD+.

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By Louis Putzel
Scientist, Forests and Governance Programme

REDD+ implementation was supposed to be “big, quick and cheap”. So far, it is not one big thing, but many smaller efforts designed and implemented by many different donors and agencies, a collection of programmes that are slow to design and implement, and likely to be more expensive than at first expected. Is that all bad?

In its first 5 years, REDD+ has grown increasingly broad and complex in many unpredicted ways, say Angelsen et al., the editors of a new collection of studies entitled Analysing REDD+: Challenges and choices. Partly due to a lack of reliable long-term financing and a huge diversity of interests, institutions, ideas, and information, the first REDD+ projects were established with development funds. They have not had the grounding and reliable financing that a new international climate change agreement may have brought.

The editors describe REDD+ as a “broad canopy” under which a wide range of actors can implement their own ideas of what should be done to reduce deforestation and forest degradation. But it is still far from achieving the transformational change the editors see as a prerequisite to overcoming ”business as usual” that continues to drive forest loss.

Brockhaus and Angelsen say such a transformational change would require “a shift in discourse, attitudes, power relations and deliberate policy and protest action”. Economic incentives that encourage unsustainable forest use would have to be removed. New information would need to be spread through groups of national and local actors concerned with “rights, forest conservation, and inequalities”. New coalitions would need to be formed representing diverse interests.

To do this, of course, is challenging. Coalitions with diverse interests could bring a loss of focus about what REDD+ was conceived to be. Scientists have found it hard to generate and disseminate clear information on climate and carbon balances. Changing economic incentives requires understanding both opportunity costs, which are highly variable, and also the power relations among groups that stand to win or lose.

Getting groups on board to bring change at different political scales almost certainly requires equitable sharing of benefits. Yet as Luttrell et al. point out in one of the book’s chapters, there are many potentially contradictory arguments as to who should benefit from REDD+ schemes: should benefits flow to people who have legal rights to the land and carbon-storing resources, or to good forest managers, who might not have a clear legal claim to the forest, or to REDD+ scheme implementers such as private companies or NGOs?

The fact that REDD+ is not one big centralised programme following binding multilateral principles enshrined in a global convention with a well-governed funding mechanism is not necessarily the largest drawback. A big and quick REDD+ could carry risks, as highlighted in a recent review by Fairhead et al. on “green grabbing”. Bringing new value to nature (as REDD+ will do) and connecting that nature to markets in an international system, where foreign and national business interests often are treated preferentially by the state, can bring about local expropriation of land and resources through processes of “enclosure, territorialisation, legalisation and violence”, as detailed by Peluso and Lund.

Analysing REDD+ strives to show what potential hurdles and structural deficiencies need to be addressed for REDD+ to function in the long term without such socially devastating effects. Many of the book’s authors (e.g. Jagger et al.) call for new coalitions and institutions to safeguard not only the forest environment but also community-level rights and participation in decision-making. Also, as Larson et al. explain, solutions to land and resource tenure problems are part of the transformational change needed for REDD+ to work.

In the end, Analysing REDD+ is cautiously optimistic. If inclusive coalitions are created that influence policy, hopefully they will do so on a “no regrets” basis. Along the way, they could achieve some positive goals, such as eliminating perverse subsidies and resolving local tenure problems.

Analysing REDD+ does not pretend to resolve all the problems facing implementation. But it does a good job of indicating which problems need solutions. It also highlights where institutions need to go in terms of incorporating diverse ideas, sharing more information, and respecting (and where necessary protecting) the interests of many groups.

If REDD+ is advancing more slowly than expected, that is not necessarily bad. If it is going to happen, a sustainable REDD+ should develop in rhythm with the institutions that safeguard local rights to land and resources, and in rhythm with the adaptability of national legal systems and economic interests.

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Further reading

  • Angelsen, A. and McNeill, D. 2012 The evolution of REDD+. In: Angelsen, A., Brockhaus, M., Sunderlin, W.D. and Verchot, L. (eds.) Analysing REDD+: Challenges and choices, 31-50. CIFOR, Bogor, Indonesia.
  • Angelsen, A., Brockhaus, M., Sunderlin, W.D., and Verchot, L. (eds.) 2012 Analysing REDD+: Challenges and choices. CIFOR, Bogor, Indonesia.
  • Brockhaus, M. and Angelsen, A. 2012 Seeing REDD+ through 4Is: A political economy framework. In: Angelsen, A., Brockhaus, M., Sunderlin, W.D. and Verchot, L. (eds.) Analysing REDD+: Challenges and choices, 15-30. CIFOR, Bogor, Indonesia.
  • Fairhead, J., Leach, M. and Scoones, I. 2012. Green grabbing: a new appropriation of nature? Journal of Peasant Studies 39: 237–261.
  • Jagger, P., Lawlor, K., Brockhaus, M., Fernanda Gebara, M., Sonwa, D.J. and Resosudarmo, I.A.P. 2012 REDD+ safeguards in national policy discourse and pilot projects. In: Angelsen, A., Brockhaus, M., Sunderlin, W.D. and Verchot, L. (eds.) Analysing REDD+: Challenges and choices, 301-316. CIFOR, Bogor, Indonesia.
  • Larson, A.M., Brockhaus, M. and Sunderlin, W.D. 2012 Tenure matters in REDD+: Lessons from the field. In: Angelsen, A., Brockhaus, M., Sunderlin, W.D. and Verchot, L. (eds.) Analysing REDD+: Challenges and choices, 153-176. CIFOR, Bogor, Indonesia.
  • Luttrell, C., Loft, L., Fernanda Gebara, M. and Kewka, D. 2012 Who should benefit and why? Discourses on REDD+ benefit sharing. In: Angelsen, A., Brockhaus, M., Sunderlin, W.D. and Verchot, L. (eds.) Analysing REDD+: Challenges and choices, 129-152. CIFOR, Bogor, Indonesia.
  • Peluso, N.L. and Lund, C. 2011 New frontiers of land control: introduction. Journal of Peasant Studies 38: 667–681.